This time last month, if you’d asked me what “Red Spanish”, “Marina” and “April Gold” were, my best guess would have been different shades of paint. Today, I could point out to you every distinguishing feature of a Red Spanish chestnut from a Marina chestnut. Not only am I familiar with these terms, you could say I’m on the verge of becoming a professional.
- A “Red Spanish” can be easily identified by its dark brown (almost mahogany) colour, its glossy surface + it’s full, rounded shape.
- A “Marina”, on the other hand, is smaller in size + lighter in colour – but they are the trees that produce the most nuts on the farm.
- An “April Gold” is, as you can imagine, gold in colour, with a triangular shape + dark stripes on its surface.
So, that’s a quick chestnut 101 for you. Those are 3 out of the 26 varieties on the nut farm that we work on. Of course, neither of us knew the first thing about chestnuts when we started working here – but believe me – you learn fast:
- Chestnuts grow in spiky burrs (like, really really spiky) on trees.
- When the nuts are ready, they fall to the ground. Sometimes they’re still in their burrs, sometimes they fall out.
- We, the nut pickers, dutifully bend down to the ground, remove the nut from the burr if necessary, (this is often accompanied by a loud yelp from an unwelcome spike to the finger) and then throw the nut in the bucket.
This is by far the most physically demanding job I’ve ever had. Just imagine bending over to pick something up from the ground for 6 hours straight, every day. It’s agony. And yet, this is also my best experience with regional work so far.
- Even though it’s a very repetitive task (just like our soul-destroying vineyard jobs), the big change is that you’re not banished to your own row, in solitude for hours on end. Instead, chatting is encouraged to keep morale up!
- We’re people, not numbers. Small farm = better than big farm.
- We get paid hourly – woohoooo! It feels so good to not be slowly killing ourselves in the desperate attempt to achieve minimum wage!
- We have a beautiful, free campsite – complete with toilets, hot showers, fireplace, kangaroos, emus and wombats!
PLUS, we get to roast chestnuts over an open fire – I never thought I would be doing that in Australia!
So far, for me, there’s always something that goes wrong or just simply isn’t the ideal situation when it comes to finding regional work, so when you land a job like this, you just have to accept the drawbacks (that’s having to lie horizontal for 6 hours after work in an attempt to recover) and appreciate the positives. Sure, we have hard days when it’s pouring with rain, our bodies ache and we feel exhausted, but then the next day the sun might be shining, our spirits are high and we’ve got a bit of money in our back pocket. All the while, remember that you’re slowly ticking off those visa days… one small step at a time…